President Trump used his State of the Union address Tuesday to highlight his achievements and make a pitch for bipartisan cooperation in Congress. Overall it was an effective piece of political rhetoric, especially his defense of his tax and deregulation policies and their results. But we doubt he reframed the political debate in a way that will give Democrats much pause going forward this year.
Mr. Trump likes these moments before Congress, no doubt because he savors the political theater. But they are also notable—and perhaps instructive to Americans who won’t follow politics obsessively—because they are among the few times he bothers to make an extended argument about political substance.
Amid the daily distractions of Robert Mueller and his Twitter blasts, our guess is that this is the first time millions of Americans heard anything at all about the First Step Act and prison reform. The emotional high point of the speech was his introduction of the two former inmates who became productive in prison and earned their reduced sentences. The political groundwork for criminal-justice reform was laid by others, but it wouldn’t have happened without Mr. Trump’s endorsement.
The biggest disappointment was his failure to reframe the immigration debate. He faces another government shutdown deadline at the end of next week over funding for the border. Yet he merely repeated his familiar parade of horribles about the border, the caravans moving north, and illegal immigrants who commit crimes. He is preaching to the converted and persuading no one else.
At least he added a grace note about legal immigrants and said they could come “in the largest numbers ever,” without any details. But he offered Democrats nothing about the Dreamers or anything else on immigration that would make them want to bend on funding “the wall.”
Mr. Trump sounded like someone who expects no compromise on immigration and thinks it will remain a stalemate through the next election. We may be headed to another pointless shutdown next week, or Mr. Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” that would unite Democrats in opposition but divide Republicans. Mr. Trump will probably be talking about the wall for two more long years, which is not where he wants to be politically.
I too had never heard of First Step. In general, anything Trump does or says that has bipartisan support gets little play. A partisan press surely doesn't help.
Then again, everyone needs to question why some of these people are in prison in the first place. I suggest we legalize drugs and let the non-violent offenders free. Michael Bloomberg says that would be the dumbest thing ever, which is of course ridiculous.
Trump again threw down the gauntlet on the wall. He mentioned the wall eleven times in his speech.
"I'll get it built," said Trump.
OK, what are the options?
Another absurd government shutdown? Is Nancy Pelosi supposed to suddenly cave? An emergency declaration?
Not a single one of those has the support of a majority of the Senate. And Trump did not even say or threaten an emergency.
Nor did Trump mention "dreamers". If he truly wanted to reach out to Democrats that was likely the word they wanted to hear.
I certainly approve of Trump's comment "Great nations do not fight endless wars."
"Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence --- not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country."
If only we would practice just that.
His address was as good as could have been expected, and I suspect far better than most expected.
But repeating forever "I'll get it built," does not get walls built, as we have seen.
If Trump wants a wall, he is going to have to give Nancy Pelosi a "dreamer compromise" or declare a national emergency. And it's possible that might not even work.
In short, Trump made a good delivery, but it is unlikely to result in any accomplishments.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock